The Way I Are

Timbaland featuring Keri Hilson

Shock Value (2007)

Bizarre grammar aside (actually, I typically sing the chorus as “the way I is,” because — why not?), this is easily Timbaland’s finest moment as a solo artist. Hip-hop is already pretty danceable in general, but upping the tempo and merging it with a more typical dance sound while still feeling fully grounded in its root genre is a difficult task. Although a tad on the short side (the song really feels like it needs one more chorus to close it out), this song is just plain excellent pop music. And kudos to introducing us to Keri Hilson, who has since released a few more great songs of her own (my favorite being “Turnin’ Me On”).

Also check out: “4 My People,” a similar take on hip-hop/dance from Missy Elliot and Eve


Grand Canyon

Tracey Thorn

Out of the Woods (2007)

You don’t know how sad I am that Everything But the Girl hasn’t released any new material since 1999. They are probably my favorite group, and “Walking Wounded” has for some time stood as my favorite album ever. So it was incredibly exciting to finally get Tracey Thorn’s solo album, as her voice is perhaps the most lovely thing I’ve ever heard. “Out of the Woods” turned out a bit spottier than I would’ve liked (Ben Watt is clearly as key to the magic of EBTG as Tracey is), but among the handful of truly great songs, “Grand Canyon” stood out above the rest. As I looked online to find the full quote of my favorite lyric, I realized the whole song is a string of beautiful lines. “Down among the heretics, the losers, and the saints / You are here amongst your own / You’ve come home.” It’s a welcoming of unconditional love set to a disco beat, a misfit call to the dancefloor.

Also check out: “Hello There” by collaborator Cagedbaby (in fact, check out pretty much anything by Cagedbaby, it’s all good)


Piece of Me

Britney Spears

Blackout (2007)

“I’m Miss American Dream since I was 17.” The first five years of Britney Spears’s career were a rapid-fire blur of constant “product” — she had 4 albums plus a greatest hits collection and a movie, all by the ripe old age of 22. Then that whole “55 hour marriage-two babies-Federline-shaved head-cooch shot-umbrella car bashing-handcuffed to a gurney-trips to rehab” period of her life happened. Yeah. So it’s no surprise when she released her next album 3 years later, she called it “Blackout” — I wouldn’t be shocked if she was in one that whole time period. What was a surprise was that it was, by a mile, her best album yet. Filled with funky electro, thumping beats, and warped voices galore, it set her up on a return to glory. The strongest song was the second single, “Piece of Me,” the best anti-paparazzi rejoinder since Madonna’s “Human Nature” a dozen years earlier. Sexual moans became part of the rhythm track, and her voice was deliciously manipulated on the chorus – “do you want a piece of me?” Ridiculously catchy, the song simultaneously summed up her career and became one of her finest musical moments.

Also check out: “Get Naked (I Got a Plan)” from the same album — one of several other shoulda-been singles.


Paper Planes


Kala (2007)

I loved M.I.A.’s “Arular” album, and was equally impressed with her follow-up “Kala” — both mixed genres and cultures in a thrillingly unexpected way. And then there’s the song with the gunshot chorus. The first time I heard “Paper Planes” I was actually shocked — which is, generally, a hard reaction for a song to trigger (pardon the pun). She’s singing: “all I want to do is shoot you and take your money” — which, on a literal level, is rather extreme to say the least. I later read that her thinking behind this song was as a commentary on the racial/cultural profiling she had seen and experienced first-hand. By flat-out confessing to a stereotype, she’s pointing out just how ridiculous those stereotypes are. And she’s doing it with a very memorable chorus, clever raps (“I pack and deliver like UPS trucks”), and a hip-hop beat layered over a Clash sample. The fact that it became a mega-hit just sweetens the deal.

Also check out: “Galang” from her “Arular” album — which might even be catchier than “Paper Planes”


Don’t Stop the Music


Good Girl Gone Bad (2007)

Every time I listened to this song while compiling this list, I bumped it up a few more notches, until it climbed all the way into the top 20. While “Umbrella” may be considered more her signature song, it’s really this track that will still be played on the radio and in clubs in 20 years. Borrowing that Michael Jackson hook, and then piling about 8 other hooks on top of it, this song is ridiculously catchy. Like, swine flu catchy. Cover-your-face-with-a-mask catchy. Wear-a-condom catchy. Girl’s had a slew of hits in her short time as a star, here’s hoping she keeps churning out tracks like this one.

Also check out: It may have seemed like every song from this album was released as a single, but album cut “Lemme Get That” is another great Rihanna track.